DADDIO:  A young woman gets into a NYC cab and by the time she gets out, she and the driver have traveled to places neither of them expected. The conversation propels them into parts unknown courtesy of revelatory performances by Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn all within the confines of a taxi from the airport to her front door. These expansive performances which take place mostly from the neck up, erupt from the spark of a connection which begins with simple chitchat and some playful banter. Very subtly and slowly, things take a turn for something more emotionally intimate and psychologically probing– until their interchange evolves into a kind of spiritual epiphany for each of them. I was glued.

Could this conversation really happen? Might it actually go there? Yes, with the right driver and the right passenger, and the right duo delivering these meticulously calibrated lines. Writer Christy Hall’s screenplay– and her feature film directorial debut –is ingenious; so is the casting. Co-producer Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn are somehow working at the same temperature, delivering their lines with congruent, naturalistic intensity, effortlessly leading us from text to subtext with a breath, a look, a phrase. This is the stuff of theater and it could easily be staged live. Before we know it, they find themselves on a profound, emotional trip which blindsides us all.

Not only is there lots of room in these performances –which take us places we don’t expect, never exactly where we think we’re headed– but it’s also amazing how much psychological room the cinematographer and editor find in that cab. The camera glides elegantly around the interior and exterior; we see them and the vehicle from every angle, inside and out, above and below, in the rear view, even a child’s-eye view from another car on the road. (It’s all shot on a single location with footage of the actual route from JFK to Manhattan shown on LED screens around them.) As they navigate obstacles, play a confessional game, roll with the silences, they grow increasingly more invested in the tales they are telling and what those tales reveal about themselves and each other, where they’ve been, and who they are.

These are stellar performances deserving of Oscar acknowledgement next year if we don’t forget. It’s an inspired pairing generating potent human connection.  At the end, I was gratified to have been along for a ride which didn’t involve a high speed chase, or a crash, or a holdup, or some other jolting escapade goosing things along. It was plenty tense, dramatic, surprising, and moving to be on the road on that compelling journey we’re all traveling– alone, together.